Well Dined

17Nov/110

Pasta, Pasta, Pasta!

We have a tradition in our house of making a huge batch of meat sauce in the fall and freezing it for use all year. The recipe is a combination of the recipes we grew up with, both of which have a tomato base. My mother's recipe involves a combination of beef, pork, and lamb; along with garlic, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, olives, red wine and Italian spice blend. My mother-in-law's recipe is similar but uses only beef, no bell pepper or olives, no wine, and dried basil instead of Italian blend. I have merged these two recipes to form my own - I use a combination of beef, pork, and veal (which can be found in stores already mixed as "meatloaf mix"); yes on bell pepper and wine; no on mushrooms and black olives (Jasper doesn't like them); and I use both dried basil and Italian seasoning blend.

My sauce is American style, tried and true, and best served on spaghetti with Parmesan. But this month when the hankering for pasta came on, I decided to try some new things and see what would happen.

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Fall for me means time to bust out the slow cooking cookbook, and the picture on the cover - pappardelle bolognese - was really calling to me. A little cultural note - bolognese was always meant to be served with a wide, flat pasta (usually tagliatelle). "Spaghetti alla Bolognese" is an entirely un-Italian invention, Italians won't eat it that way because the thin noodle can't handle the thick sauce. In addition, the "ragu" of Bologna is not based in a tomato sauce like it is in other countries (and in my own sauce recipe).


A combination of beef, pork, and veal is browned with onion, celery, and garlic. I added carrot to the recipe because I always use it in my soup/stew/sauce bases.


White wine, beef broth, and tomato paste form the liquid portion, and the sauce is left to simmer away in a slow cooker for 8-10 hours. I added a little cream at the end of the cooking time, as traditional bolognese involves dairy - and who doesn't love a little cream? I really wanted to use fresh (not dried) pasta and wasn't able to find pappardelle, so I used fettuccine. Since fresh pasta cooks so quickly, I just threw it into the simmering sauce to cook and absorb all that flavor.


The pasta absorbed a lot of the liquid, making the sauce the perfect thick texture. This was a thicker, meatier sauce that was less tomato-y than out usual - a nice change.

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A couple of weeks after making that bolognese, I saw a recipe in the November issue of Real Simple for spaghetti with bacon meatballs and thought that it sounded fantastic!


The recipe only called for 3 strips of bacon, and I wondered how much that little an amount would affect the flavor. But wow - the smokey bacon flavor comes through really well and adds a lot to the meatballs.


The recipe also called for just ground beef, but I used my favorite combo of beef, pork, and veal. I buy it pre-mixed at the store and it has the most amazing fluffy texture when cooked, and a depth of flavor - perfect for meatballs.


Instead of using just any marinara sauce, I thought this would the perfect place for the Marcella Hazan sauce I discovered a month ago. I broiled the meatballs for longer than the recipe called for, and they were still pink in the middle, so I put them into the sauce to take a nice tomato bath and finish cooking.


This was so delicious! I think it might replace my tomato and meat sauce recipe as the favorite, or at least make a frequent appearance. It is almost like a deconstructed version. The tomato sauce is so sublime and uses so few ingredients - no garlic, wine, spices, or herbs necessary! And the meatballs are soft and smokey and just fantastic. I served it up with some Parmesan and a dollop of fresh homemade ricotta.

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Sarah's Spaghetti Sauce
This recipe makes a lot of sauce, definitely cut it down if you aren't planning on freezing most of it. Also - tomato sauces are notorious for burning, so use a thick bottomed pot, keep a careful eye on it, and don't forget to stir every so often. This is even better the next day after the flavors have melded together in the fridge.

2-3 lbs mixed ground beef, pork, and veal
2-3 medium onions, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 cups of red wine
3 large cans of crushed tomatoes
2 large cans of tomato sauce
1 small can of tomato paste
pinch of sugar
1 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper

In a large stock pot over medium high heat, warm a couple tbsp of olive oil. Add the ground meat and brown, breaking it up into pieces. Drain the grease, then add the onions and bell pepper. Cook until tender-crisp, then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the red wine and cook until 1/2 the volume has evaporated. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, basil, Italian seasoning, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer on low for a few hours (being careful not to burn) until the flavors have melded. Add the salt (about 1 tbsp) and pepper at the end to avoid over-seasoning.

Bolognese
adapted from Williams Sonoma
for the traditional Italian bolognese - read here.

2 tbs olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Chardonnay
2 cups beef broth
2 tbs tomato paste
1 tbs chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I didn't use any)
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 lb fresh pappardelle, tagliatelle, or fettuccine
1/2 cup shaved or grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

In the slow cooker insert (or a dutch oven - will create a drier sauce) over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, celery, and carrot and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the beef, veal and pork and cook, stirring and breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until it has almost evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the broth, tomato paste, and parsley, and season with salt and pepper.

Return the insert to the base, cover, and cook on low according to the manufacturer’s instructions until the sauce is thickened, 8 to 10 hours. (For dutch oven - preheat an oven to 350°F. Cover and cook in the oven, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 1 1/2 hours. If the sauce looks too dry after 1 hour, add 1/2 cup water.)

Place the insert on a burner, add the cream, and heat to a simmer. Add the fresh pasta and cook until al dente, allowing a few more minutes than the instructions call for in boiling water. Note - this will only work with fresh pasta, dried pasta must be cooked in salted boiling water (the dutch oven sauce may also be too dry for this to work).

Using tongs, lift the pasta from the pot and swirl into a bowl or plate, top with more sauce and Parmesan.

Spaghetti with Bacon Meatballs
adapted from Real Simple
serves 4

1 small onion, very coarsely chopped
3 slices bacon, very coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 lb "meatloaf mix" (ground beef, pork, and veal)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
3 tbsp bread crumbs (I used panko)
1 large egg
kosher salt and black pepper
1 lb of spaghetti
1 recipe Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce, see below **EDIT** use 2x the recipe for sauce, the meatballs soak up quite a bit so 1 doesn't make enough **EDIT**

Heat broiler to high. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.

In a food processor (I used my Vitamix blender), combine the onion, bacon, garlic, and parsley; pulse until finely chopped, 10 to 15 times (I went a little further and blended them into a paste). Transfer to a medium bowl, add the beef, Parmesan, bread crumbs, egg, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper, and mix gently to combine.

Form the beef mixture into 16 meatballs (about 2 tablespoons each) and place on a foil-lined broiler-proof rimmed baking sheet. Broil, turning once, until the outside is darkly browned, 15-20 minutes.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.

Add the meatballs to simmering tomato sauce and simmer until cooked through. Serve over the pasta and sprinkle with Parmesan, ricotta, or both.


Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce

1 large can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes
5 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt to taste

Put the tomatoes in a saucepan, add the butter and onion, and cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until it is thickened to your liking and the fat floats free from the tomato (this is just an indication, no need to try to strain the fat out, just stir it back in).

Taste and correct for salt. Discard the onion or blend/chop all or some of it into the sauce (I used a stick blender and all of the onion).

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